Davina Wiltshire: Davina Wiltshire’s CommUNITY News no. 1

Helena Charlesworth at Edmund Rice Sinon School

I can’t believe I’ve been in Arusha, Tanzania over a year now. I still remember the drive from Nairobi to Arusha, passing all those small villages, looking with amazement at how active the women were, carrying water and firewood on their heads and carrying children on their backs. One of the images that stayed with me was of very small children out in the middle of nowhere looking after herds of cows and goats. They are given so much responsibility at a small age. I thought of the children back home, how lucky they are to have such a carefree childhood.

I arrived at Edmund Rice Sinon Secondary School, just before Easter. I was warmly welcomed by Helena (another Palms volunteer) with whom I share a house. The Easter service was very spiritual but very long. The singing was joyful and the women were very colourful in their kangas. It was a great introduction to the Tanzanian culture.

My role at the school was to teach Special Program. Special Program is a transition program for Form 1 students to improve their English and thinking skills in order to give them a chance of success in Secondary School. The program runs for nine weeks.

I thought of the children back home, how lucky they are to have such a carefree childhood.

Davina with her class at Engosengiu Primary School
I was very nervous about teaching Special Program because I’ve never taught older students before. The ages of my students ranged from thirteen to twenty. Once I got into the class I realised I had nothing to worry about. They were not like the teenagers back home and their English ability was primary school level. I had a mixed class of students, from those who had some English to those who had very little. It was a joy teaching Special Program because the students were eager to learn and improve their English. It was special seeing the joy on their faces when you introduce them to games, computer and interactive learning activities. Teaching them all day, everyday, you really get to know them and develop strong relationships with them even when they leave Special Program.

I taught Special Program for three terms. At the end of the year, my heart was pulling in a different direction towards the local primary school across the road. Teaching Special Program made me realise how it’s important for students to have a good English foundation at the primary school level and I’ve always loved teaching younger students. It was a hard decision but the right one for me.

I have been teaching at Engosengiu Primary School since January this and it’s been such a rewarding experience for me. It’s so different from Special Program. Firstly, I only teach English. In Tanzania, Primary School is taught in Kiswahili (except for English as a subject) and Secondary School in English. As you can imagine, it’s very difficult for students to make that transition. Secondly, I have triple the number of students in my classes (75-90) than in Special Program and back home. Finally Engosengiu is a government school. They don’t have the resources that the private schools have. Edmund Rice has a computer lab with internet access. At the primary school, there is no computer in sight. The students don’t even know what a computer is. We get reading books donated to the school through Edmund Rice which is fantastic. The problem is we are only given a class set of around ten books, each which is very difficult when you have seventy-plus students in your class. The students just don’t have the independence and reading skills to work on their own.

The amount of marking we have to do daily is astonishing as you can imagine with the large sizes of the classes. The students have monthly tests and for teachers here, they mark over three hundred test books that weekend. Luckily for me, I only have to mark around two hundred and thirty books. I share the marking with another teacher. I have a new appreciation for my teaching job back home especially with the small classes and access to good teaching resources.

The students have reminded me why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place.

Teaching at Edmund Rice and now at Engosengiu has taught me so much about myself and about my teaching skills. The students here have reminded me why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place. A friend sent a fridge magnet with the follow words Life is about dreams, teaching is about making them come true. There is little hope for most of the students at Engosengiu to go on to Secondary Schools for a number of reasons. The main ones being not enough government schools, their parents can’t afford to send them to private schools or they haven’t passed their Standard Seven government exams. I teach over three hundred students and I know I can’t help them all but if I can help as many as I can by giving them a chance at Secondary School, the next step is up to them. I often remind myself of the saying, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

The most important lesson the students have taught me is appreciation for the many blessings in my life and to look at the big picture. No matter how bad things are for them, they have a positive outlook that things will get better. Each morning I am greeted with hundred of smiles and it’s infectious. How can I not smile back even though I am not a morning person. I won’t lie, it’s hard work teaching that many students. At times you feel like you are not getting anywhere but you just have to look into their faces and you know that they are trying. What more can you ask of them and yourself? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.

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The ideal of a single civilization for everyone, implicit in the cult of progress
and technique, impoverishes and mutilates us. - Octavio Paz